Cécile McLorin Salvant | Mélusine Review
by Darnell Jackson
In her latest album, Mélusine, celebrated singer Cécile McLorin Salvant masterfully weaves together elements of French mythology, Haitian Voudou, and Apocrypha, exploring the European folkloric legend of Mélusine while also delving into themes of cultural hybridity, the transformative power of the gaze, and revealing secrets. The album, comprising five original pieces and nine interpretations of songs from the twelfth century to the mid-1980s, primarily showcases Salvant’s linguistic prowess in French, Occitan, English, and Haitian Kréyol. Mélusine skillfully challenges norms while remaining grounded in convention. As an American-born child of French and Haitian parents, Salvant’s multicultural background lends a unique perspective to the story of Mélusine and the broader themes of the album.
“La route enchantée,” a Charles Trenet piece dear to Salvant’s grandmother, is featured on the album as a live recording, beginning with a rubato introduction. Salvant’s vocal performance demonstrates clear diction and a sensual quality, expertly embellishing the melody with expressive nuances. As the band enters, a relaxed groove emerges, with Aaron Diehl’s piano playing a particularly noteworthy role. Diehl’s tasteful approach focuses on well-voiced chord structures, providing a solid foundation for the song without overshadowing the other elements.
“Wedo,” an original composition by Salvant, incorporates references to the black serpent creator found in Haitian Voodoo and the wider African diaspora. The track is characterized by its upbeat Afro-Latin feel and cha-cha rhythmic structures, which, while repetitive, could benefit from additional variation to maintain interest. An essential element of “Wedo” is the inclusion of modern synth sounds, adding a contemporary touch to the overall arrangement.
In conclusion, Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Mélusine showcases her undeniably appealing voice and linguistic versatility as she explores themes of cultural hybridity, the transformative power of the gaze, and revealing secrets. However, the album meanders stylistically, and a more consistent instrumentation and flow of relatable style could have better served its overall cohesion. While Salvant’s vocal prowess remains impressive, her earlier works may hold greater appeal for some listeners due to their more focused approach.
Label: Nonesuch Records Inc.
Release Date: March 24, 2023